Helen Diller: My model from the onset of this program was that it’s never too late, too early, or too often to give back to the community.
Daniel Rosenthal: I love seeing how magic for anyone who sees it can bring this smile. When I was very young, my uncle showed me a trick of how to make a coin disappear, and from there I urged him to teach me how to do it. And now I’m teaching him tricks. At age eight, volunteering at Kaiser Hospital, after one of the shows, a patient had waved me over to her bedside and said, this is the first time we’ve heard laughter in here. And from there, Magic Is Medicine was born.
The mission of Magic Is Medicine is to bring that drop of joy for people who are isolated or scared, sick and lonely children, and sad adults. Magic Is Medicine is not only about me, but matching professional magicians all over the country from New York to Miami to Los Angeles with hospitals or schools in their communities.
One of the highlights of Magic Is Medicine was performing in Israel for wounded soldiers and immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia. With Magic Is Medicine, the Jewish aspects that I really cherish are bikkur cholim, visiting the sick or lonely, and also sadhaka not only repairing the lives of Jews but people of our entire world. Magic is an international language and all magicians, even if they don’t speak English, they use magic to communicate.
One example of how the Diller Award is gonna help Magic Is Medicine to expand is to purchase boxes of therapeutic magic tricks to give to each patient so they can go out and share the magic. I’m incredibly grateful to the Helen Diller Family Foundation and Helen Diller, especially showing to anyone that good deeds do pay off.
Joe Langerman: A lot of young kids, including myself, are afraid to admit to themselves that they are being bullied and to do something about it. There were points that I thought it was my own fault. I didn’t know why I was being bullied. I didn’t know why this was happening. One day I said to myself enough, I wanted to make a change. I wanted to make a difference. And that’s how VACHI Voices Against Cruelty, Hatred and Intolerance was created and how it evolved.
One of the things that I discovered was that our policies were outdated. We had no hate motivated behavior policy, and our non-discrimination policy did not include sexual orientation. I was able to convince the board to change those outdated policies.
Judaism is important to me in terms of VACHI the message of acceptance and tolerance, which are key pillars in the Jewish identity. One program we did was called No Name Calling Week, where we had various activities to emphasize name calling is not okay. We actually got a proclamation from the mayor to proclaim it, No Name Calling Week about the city. We worked with the faculty in including tolerance curriculum in things like journal writing or blog posting.
I found out that The Laramie Project was gonna be played at my high school. The Westboro Baptist Church announced it, it was gonna picket. I organized various students and community members to have a community showing of solidarity. VACHI’s message is clear. We stand behind The Laramie Project, we stand behind the school and we stand behind the message of tolerance.
I’m very thankful for Mrs. Diller. I always knew that my project was making a difference. I could see it with my own eyes, but when the Diller Family Foundation gave me this award, that definitely gave me a lot of validation, and it made me feel really good that I was doing something good, that I was making a difference.
Celine Yousefzdeh: In 2008, the city of Sderot in Israel was being constantly attacked by rockets, and a school that we were in contact with was directly being affected by it and the kids couldn’t go to school. And I wanted to be involved. I wanted to help out.
I talked with one of my really close friends and we collaborated and really thought that the fashion show setup would be the best thing to raise awareness and funds for Sderot. You’re bringing in this new idea that has never been done before, no one has heard of. And so it was something that really brought the high school together. It required all ends of the community to make this work on campus. It was so mind-blowing to see how many kids were asking our committee members, when is it happening? What can I do to get involved? I wanna do this, I wanna do that. What’s the next charity we’re gonna be raising money for?
Just seeing the excitement that this project brought was more than I could ever imagine. You know, parents would come up to me, and they would say, I’ve never seen my son or daughter so dedicated to, you know, get this done and learn communication skills and learn to be able to persuade big time company to come to our event and explain to them why it’s beneficial for them.
And when the actual show started, and the first model walked out with the music blasting to see something that you envisioned for so long play out right in front of your eyes, it’s a feeling you can’t compare. Everyone really could see that this type of innovative and exciting event can do a lot for Israel and, you know, really incredible causes, incredible charities and organization.
A few months after the first fashion show, I was able to go to Israel and hand deliver the checks to the mayor of Sderot. And to be able to see that they were so appreciative of our support and our love and our care was what made it all so satisfying.
Being given this incredible award by Mrs. Diller motivates me to give other high school students and other Jewish teens the opportunity to do the same thing that I’ve done. We have a lot to offer. We have a lot to do in this world now.
Adam Weinstein: When I was younger, I attended math and science summer camps. I learned material that I hadn’t learned in the classroom. And not only that, but we did fun hands-on activities that really brought math and science to life for me. And I think after having that experience, I really learned that science is relevant and it can be fun. But not only that, it can be simple and easy to do.
I started Archimedes Learning cuz I wanted to give underprivileged students the opportunity to experience that excitement surrounding math and science. The first step was to create a curriculum. I recalled some of the activities that I did when I was younger in camp and that I found fun and educational, and I created lesson plans based on those activities.
I went to the director of community service at my school and inquired whether she knew any teachers at an underprivileged public elementary school. Fortunately, she did. And she introduced me to a teacher at Coeur d’Alene Avenue Elementary School. And that’s how the first Archimedes Learning class occurred.
The most fulfilling part of my work with Archimedes Learning is seeing my students’ faces light up and they grasp the concept and are able to explain that concept to their classmates. One of my students, Maria, was very shy in the beginning of the class. After encouraging her to participate, she finally did. She went up to the front of the class and explained to her classmates how buoyancy works. At that moment, I knew my program was making a difference. She learned the material, she gained confidence, and she was having fun.
One of the challenges I faced was expanding our community’s learning beyond just the class that I taught. I was tasked with recruiting and training new volunteers to make sure that they were ready to lead their own class. I was no longer responsible for just making sure I was prepared to teach a class. I had an obligation to ensuring that my other volunteer teachers were prepared and equipped to lead their own class.
One of the main motivators by starting Archimedes Learning was my Jewish upbringing. My parents, grandparents and Jewish education at Sinai Akiba Academy have taught me that I have an obligation to help those less. Fortunately, I cannot thank Mrs. Diller enough because this award will allow me to expand our community’s learning.
Zak Kukoff: I have a, a very good friend named James O’Neill, and James was diagnosed with autism at a really young age. And what I saw was as I went through the school system, students just really didn’t know what autism was. They didn’t know what their behaviors were that students who had autism exhibited and they didn’t know how to react to those behaviors.
And so Autism Ambassadors is really a way for me to be able to make sure that no student ever has to feel alone. Every student has friends, and that’s something that’s a core Jewish value. If you see someone who’s suffering, you see someone who is emotionally in pain, you have an obligation to go help that person.
And what we do is we actually do role-playing with all of our students. And these lesson plans teach typical students how to teach skills to students of autism. For example, the student of autism is a problem making a phone call. Maybe you’ll break down the idea of phone call into the salutation, making small talk, but actually what you made the call for, and then a conclusion.
And the great thing about having these typical students role-play as though they have autism is when you treat someone as though they have a diagnosis, it makes them just so much more aware about the way they interact with someone who has a diagnosis as well.
So what we do is we actually have each module checked for clinical accuracy, by one of our volunteer psychologists who are stationed all throughout the country. We wanna make sure that every lesson plan comes from a real problem students face, but it’s also accurate clinically as well. And the moment that I knew that I had made a difference and the moment that I was satisfied and happy with the work that I had done was was when I got a call from James’ father. And James’ father said to me, Zak, this is the first time James has ever had a group of kids to hang out with on a Friday night. This is the first time he’s ever been invited to a birthday party. This is the first time he’s ever gone to a baseball game with friends. I mean that, that moment for me said, this is worthwhile and you’re making a difference.
But for me, the Helen Diller Award, the tikkun olam award is just another reminder of how much work that we’ve got to do, how much work Autism ambassadors has yet to do.
Daniel Rosenthal: The significance of this award is that the Helen Diller Family Foundation believes in investing in our future.
Joe Langerman: It told me that my project is doing something good, that it’s making a difference.
Celine Yousefzdeh: People are saying, you know, you’re good job with what you’re doing, but continue doing what you’re doing and do more.
Adam Weinstein: I hope to start Archimedes Learning classes in more public schools so that a greater number of students can benefit from the program.
Zak Kukoff: The Helen Diller Family Foundation and the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award, they reward your passion. That’s the support that is gonna help someone continue their work into the future.